Roger Corman’s Cult Classics: Crazy Mama / The Lady In Red – DVD Review

DVD Reviews, Reviews

When Angie Dickinson’s Big Bad Mama became a hit, Roger Corman wasn’t completely bothered that he couldn’t get her to be in a sequel. Other Hollywood producers would waste months pleading and begging for a star to return while offering more cash and perks That’s not the New World way. Corman knew that America was primed for more sweet country women gone gangster themed movies. Whether Dickinson was the star was inconsequential. He dealt in genres and not star driven franchises. Thus he grabbed TV’s most popular annoying neighbor and a pesky teen sleuth for two more action packed period pieces. Roger Corman’s Cult Classics: Crazy Mama / Lady In Red are two entries that live up to the excitement of Big Bad Mama without being mere formulaic retreads.

Cloris Leachman wasn’t your normal star that hooked up with Roger Corman. She wasn’t getting her start or looking for a comeback. In the mid-’70s she was soaring high with her role as Phyllis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and spin-off Phyllis. Her house was cluttered with numerous Emmys and even an Oscar for her supporting actress work. But movie studios weren’t willing to hire her as a leading leading. She was a second banana. Corman took the risk and made her his newest Mama. Instead of being Big and Bad, she displayed her comic insanity to be Crazy Mama. Cloris got extremely lucky to find herself being directed by a young Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs).

Crazy Mama opens during the depression when a landholder uses goons to evict a sharecropper in Arkansas. Instead of moving on, the poor guy gets ventilated. Witnessing his death is his wife and daughter. The film flashes forward to the 1958. The daughter (Leachman) and mother (The Lucy Show‘s Ann Sothern) have moved to Long Beach, California, but still have issues with landlords. Jim Backus (Gilligan’s Island) evicts them from their beauty shop. Instead of merely moving on, Cloris snaps. She chases down Backus and steals his car. She loads up mom, her pregnant daughter (Matlock‘s Linda Purl) and the future-baby daddy (Happy Days‘ Donny Most) and heads to Las Vegas for excitement. While in Sin City, she puts together Mama’s Gang with the intent of a cross country crime spree so she can buy the Arkansas farm. She hooks up with a small town mayor (Stuart Whitman) who wants to marry her. Instead of him getting a divorce, they fake his kidnapping so the guy’s rich wife will cough up millions. This is the plan that really backfires and brings down the law.

Demme and his crew give the film the perfect ‘50s vibe with fashion, music and background dressing. Also doesn’t hurt to have Ralph Malph as part of the action. There’s a great playful nature to the crime spree with Cloris not having to get too serious when she’s holding a gun. Demme had such a great touch. Has it really been nearly 20 years since Silence of the Lambs and his downfall into making “serious” movies and ignorable remakes? He really needs to work with Cloris again.

Pamela Sue Martin went bad to shed her good girl TV image. She quit playing Nancy Drew before the end of The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries‘ second season. Her snooping teen image was dumped in a trunk by Polly Frankin in The Lady In Red. She starts out a sweet girl on the farm, but quickly gets sucked into the world of gangsters when she hits the big city. She likes the bad boys including a gangster played by Robert Forster (Jackie Brown). Her checked life involves cathouses, wild parties and women’s lock up. This debauchery isn’t presented in a teasing PG-13 flavor. Her career highlights is as the mysterious Lady in Red that accompanied John Dillinger (Wild Wild West‘s Robert Conrad) to the Biograph Theater on the night the FBI gunned him down. The screenplay from John Sayles (Piranha and Eight Men Out) makes her life paced like a Tommy gun. She goes through the complete gangster girl experience in barely 93 minutes. Martin smudges her squeaky clean persona when she faces off with Christopher Lloyd (Taxi).

Roger Corman’s Cult Classics: Crazy Mama / Lady In Red keeps up the exciting female gangster action pioneered in Big Bad Mama. TV stars Cloris Leachman and Pamela Sue Martin go beyond their nice roles with their outlaw acting. Luckily for viewers, only Pamela goes without her wardrobe to be a bad girl.

The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic for both films. Both transfers show a little wear on the film. These do like right when you chose the Grindhouse viewing option. The added details enhances the production design. The audio is mono

Audio Commentary with director Jonathan Demme and Roger Corman on Crazy Mama. They do give plenty of background on the production and the cast. This was Demme’s second film for Corman’s New World so there’s a good history between them. The strange thing is Demme doesn’t remember if Cloris was on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Interview with director Jonathan Demme and Roger Corman (14:48) reminds us how special New World was. Demme was a film publicist that became a director under Corman.

Trailer and TV spots (2:51) has Howdy Doody setting the ‘50s feel.

Audio Commentary with Director Lewis Teague and actor Robert Forster on The Lady In Red. Teague credits Forster for his film career. Teague did second unit on Avalanche with Forster before this movie. Forester said if Teague ever directed, he’d want to be in the film. Even though Forester was working on The Black Hole, he found time to be in The Lady In Red. The actor explains that he took no billing in the credits after his agent said the part was too small.

Audio Commentary with Producer Julie Corman and screenwriter John Sayles. The writer knew a lot about American gangsters and loved The Untouchables.

Theatrical Trailers (2:17) mingles vintage FBI footage of Dillinger’s death with film’s cast.

Poster Gallery (0:50) contains the art for both films.

Roger Corman’s Cult Classics: Crazy Mama / The Lady In Red is a enjoyable double feature about farm girls turned outlaw ladies. Crazy Mama lets Demme have fun with Cloris on the run from the law. The Lady In Red gets into the whirlwind nature of the gangster life from a woman’s perspective. Although the Hardy Boys will be shocked at her behavior.

Shout! Factory presents Roger Corman’s Cult Classics: Crazy Mama / The Lady In Red. Starring: Cloris Leachman, Donny Most, Jim Backus, Christopher Lloyd, Robert Conrad and Pamela Sue Martin. Running Time: 174 minutes. Rating: Rated PG & R. Released on DVD: December 7, 2010.

Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.